I wonder sometimes about the taste perceptions of 19th century sailors. Maybe it had something to do with a diet high in salted meat rather than poultry. I can picture a group of ancient mariners sitting in a foreign port eating spring rolls, or bean tortillas. They nod encouragingly to each other. ‘Mmmm …. Tastes like mutton.’
We are on a school break at the moment, so things are pretty relaxed here. With no pressure to fill in the days with lessons, there is still a need to occupy the boys with something. We took a walk to Muttonbird Island.
Muttonbird Island is not really an island at all any more. It has been connected to the mainland for the last hundred years by a breakwater. Between them, the island and the breakwater make up one side of the harbour. On the way out to the island, we walk through the marina and look at the boats. They are mostly fishing boats and private yachts, although occasionally, something very unusual moors here. The boys enjoy watching the small schools of fish which go swimming through the shallow water, as well as the odd stingray.
The island itself is named after the muttonbirds which nest here. The nests are shallow burrows about a metre long, which the birds dig into the soil. The whole top of the island is honeycombed with these burrows. You have to stay on the path so as not to accidentally collapse them.
The best time to see the birds is dusk, but we were there in mid morning, so we only got to see where they live. Plant seeds easily blow out to the island, so there are quite a lot of weeds growing there. Also, because of easy access via the breakwater, there are also problems with rats and other predators. There are constant programs from National Parks to keep them under control.
Muttonbirds are common seabirds in the Pacific. They migrate to Japan over winter. Because they fatten up prior to the journey, and live in large colonies, they were popular eating with sailors in the 1800s. Evidently they taste like mutton. As much as I love experiential education, I guess I will never really know for sure. In early spring as they return from their migration, many of them are killed by storms, or die of exhaustion, and they wash up all along the east coast of Australia.
We walked up to the top of the island and had a good look around. You can see a number of other islands from up there. It is also a good spot to look for migrating whales, although we didn’t see any that day. Once we had finished on the island itself, we wandered along the inner breakwater. The boys liked to climb through the rocks and hide in the gaps.
We made it to the end, and were having a look at the bouys and navigation lights around the place, when the boys kept noticing honeybees flying past. It seemed an unlikely spot to find bees, so we followed them for a while to discover why we had seen more than just an isolated one.
Tucked away under a rock we found a small feral hive. I guess they were not just swarming, because they had gone to the effort to build some honeycombs. It was very unusual. It seemed a long hard journey for them to reach any flowers.
After watching the bees for a while, we made our way back to the car. We were all tired and hungry. In a quiet sort of way, it had been an exhausting morning.